Depth-of-field is a filmmaking term used to describe the area of focus in front of and behind the main subject of a shot. When little is in-focus, the shot is said to have shallow depth-of-field and when much is in-focus, the shot is said to have deep depth-of-field.
For example, the bridge behind my beautiful wife below is distinctly out-of-focus, hence, shallow depth-of-field:
In this next shot, the bridge is much more in-focus, thus, deeper depth-of-field:
Depth-of-field can be controlled by a few factors, but I’ll spare you the technical details! It’s more important to note that, shallow depth-of-field is often visually and aesthetically associated with professional filmmaking. Here’s an example from the phenomenal film, Once Upon a Time in the West (1969), directed by Sergio Leone:
On the flip side, great films also utilize deep depth-of-field quite often. Here are more examples from the same scene in Once Upon a Time in the West (1969):
For a long time, shallow depth-of-field was difficult to achieve on consumer video cameras; however, recent technological advances have made it very simple. As a result, aspiring filmmakers have armed themselves with this new technology in an attempt to make more “professional” looking movies. And rather than use depth-of-field intentionally, many have exploited shallow depth-of-field, which has resulted in a glut of gratuitous shallow focus imagery.
As I conceptualized my visual scheme for Girlfriend 19, I was tempted to primarily use shallow depth-of-field for its stunning and professional qualities. However, more and more, it became clear to me that deep focus would serve my vision much more accurately. I was reminded that, in the end, depth-of-field is simply a tool in my filmmakers toolbox and must be used intentionally.
I took some screen shots of my deep focus Girlfriend 19 footage, then added a shallow focus effect. Take a look at the difference and please note my explanation of use in the captions.
Not everything in Girlfriend 19 was shot in deep focus. There definitely were moments that demanded shallow depth-of-field for a variety of reasons.